28 March 2016

The Bird Whisperer

Now he's the Bird Whisperer
After a few weeks of a pretty meager selection of photos to typically accompany the weekly letters from TMFKATB, he dumped nearly three times his usual number of pictures. The pictures that came with today's letter were all over the map, but each made me smile. His letter was smile-inducing as well.

His mission president's three year service comes to an end at the end of July and transition plans to the new mission president are already under way. As TMFKATB put it today, "Lots of big (well, he said 'bug' but I'm taking that as a typo) things happening in the mission!" He's pretty excited to be a part of it too. He'll also be attending the Church's General Conference this weekend too and that's got him pumped as well. That's one of the benefits of serving in the smack dab in the heart of the Zion Curtain.

I don't think he'll be taking the bird in the picture with him though to Conference. Last week, as you may recall, he shared a picture of himself with some one's pet (allegedly) rat. This week, suddenly he's the Bird Whisperer. I laughed when I saw this because if he were serving the Philippines that bird would have never made it to the cuddly hand-holding stage. That bird would have been served up in the shell as balut. If you clicked on the link (calm down, it will only take you to Wikipedia, the truth sayers of the interwebs) and you think balut is not a thing, I can assure you it's a thing. When my parents served in the Philippines for three years, they told their American missionaries they couldn't try it. I'm pretty certain that mission rule was widely broken. I've tried balut and it is not delightful (think a really brine juice, with a hint of feathers, and the slightest crunch of beak that, like everything else, kind of tastes like chicken). It's not horrible either (Logan, you have been warned), seriously. I suspect had TMFKATB just sampled balut, his smile would not be quite so big.

I'm glad to see that smile. I'm glad to hear from him each week. Seeing how he's growing and working through challenges and experience has been more rewarding than I can explain. I'm going to miss this when it wraps up later this year. It's going to be here before we know it.

27 March 2016

I know

The grass in my yard, a muted green, is filling in the spots that didn't survive the winter. Yellow tulips bloom in our planter bed, coming to life as the rays of the sun feed them. The red bellied robins are back, gnoshing on the grubs that called our yard their winter home.  All these are hopeful signs that spring is here. Another most welcome sign of spring? This day - Easter Sunday.

Ages ago, as she peered into an empty tomb, a woman called Mary was wracked with anguish at the sight. A man asked her whom she sought. Without looking at him, she asked where the body had been taken. The man said, "Mary." She knew immediately that it was Him. Jesus had indeed risen.

He lives! All glory to his name!
He lives, my Savior, still the same.
Oh, sweet the joy this sentence gives:
"I know that my Redeemer lives!"
He lives! All glory to his name!
He lives, my Savior, still the same.
Oh, sweet the joy this sentence gives:
"I know that my Redeemer lives!"
- Text by Samuel Medley

His teachings at their core transcend our many differences and are meant to unite us: 

Love one another

May we not forget that.

I know He lives. I know that my Redeemer lives.

25 March 2016

Good Friday

Today, Christendom celebrates Good Friday. As a man of faith, the events of the Easter season, Christ's death and resurrection that are so beautifully chronicled in Scripture, are a source of tremendous comfort and peace to me. In a world that is full of tumult right now, that comfort and peace I feel is a tremendous gift. It makes me want to shout, 'Hallelujah!'

Because He lives, I have found peace
Because He lives, I have hope
Because He lives, I am happy

Because He lives, I know there is still good in the world. Good people doing good things for their fellowman.

May we be good to one another, even love one another in spite of our differences, not just today because it's Good Friday, but everyday.

21 March 2016

Shaking my head

Yes, it's a rat in his elbow. Why? I know not.
Since we had just gotten his update late last week, it really has only been a few days since we heard from TMFKATB. So today's update was, in his words, "quick."

He really didn't have much more to report, other then being a bit bummed that his zone (think work group or team) didn't hit the goals they'd set. I think it's frustrating him, so he's getting some good experience in being a young leader. He and his companion will have to work on different ways to motivate a diverse group of missionaries. These are situations that will benefit him as he continues to mature. It's not a bad thing to be tested.

He's testing us too with the rat picture he sent us. I cannot imagine what he's doing letting a rat crawl over him. It's not like he has an affinity for them. I mean, who does? I'm really shaking my head over this one.

20 March 2016


"Jane, you ignorant..." well, you know the rest.
For those of you of a certain age (like mine or older) and you were, like me, a news nerd even as a younger child, you will remember the "Point/Counterpoint" segment on CBS' venerable "60 Minutes." The format was fairly simple - for a few minutes in every episode, a wizened conservative (in this case, an older man who looked like he'd smoked more than his share of Camels in his lifetime) and a brash liberal (a woman, natch, because it was the 70's) would face off on the issue du jour. It was a format that was rife for farce and the early seasons of "SNL" were brilliant in their skewering. I can still hear Dan Ackroyd imperiously intoning, "Jane, you ignorant..." well, you know the rest. Let's just say the spoof highlighted the differences in their respective point of views. It made you laugh.

Sadly, in today's political discourse/horror story, there doesn't seem to be a lot of room for laughter. Unless, of course, you find the thought of a racist, bullying, mysoginst xenophobe with literally zero policy plan leading the nation funny. Queue the laugh track, right? I didn't think so. This current environment has led to some interesting (some inspiring, some soul crushing) conversations with my friends who are on all sides of the political spectrum. Through it all, the hope is that there is some common ground where we can meet. Call it moderate, call it crazy.

The funny thing is that I know it's possible. For the last nearly year and a half I've been serving in a calling at Church with a woman whose affinity for Fox News and their 'fair and balanced' drivel terrifies me and she pretty much thinks I am deranged because I don't share that affinity, among other reasons. To say we are oil and water politically is an understatement. It's made for some lively conversation at dinner parties. In proof that God knows what's best (and that He has a sense of humor), she and I were asked to teach our adult Sunday School class and we've been doing so for like I said, at least a year and a half now. Why on earth are two lay people teaching Sunday School, you ask? That's how we Mormons roll. It's a lay clergy, so you staff with the resources you have. I have to say I think we've made it work. We stayed focused on what we we'd been asked to teach. We've had great participation from the people in our class and they've made it so we've been the learners more than the teachers. It's actually been a lot of fun and we always kept it cool, too. No shout downs, no imperious pronouncements (although that could have been really fun).

Well, today my partner in teaching crime was given another assignment so our version of "Point/Counterpoint" has come to an abrupt screeching halt. I'm going to be honest here and say I'm going to miss teaching with her. It's been a really good run with someone I can call a friend, in spite of our differences.

In the end, it's probably for the best. With this presidential election turning into the surreal train wreck that it is, it was probably only a matter of time before one of us laid the other out flat in front of the class (like the way that Trump's supporters seem to enjoy using on those who are, oh I don't know, exercising the right to protest). No one needs to see that in a Sunday School class. No one.

17 March 2016


I am delighted to report that the late update this week from TMFKATB is not my fault (nor is it the fault of our nation's passenger rail provider, upon whom I have rightly foisted the blame in the past). No, due to a change in schedules, his weekly day off, or P-Day in mission vernacular, was changed to today. If there was one word I could use the describe this week's update, it would be 'power.'

He talked about the power of seeing a husband baptize his wife. He spoke about the power of prayer. At twenty years old, to have personal experiences that cement your witness of prayer and its power is one of those things that helps to anchor you for life. His comments reminded me how I could be more effective in my prayers. I think that sometimes they are not getting past my ceiling and that's on me. Prayer is a leap of faith and there are times when I need to jump a little higher. I recognize that for some of the Den-izens, prayer is not your thing. I just appreciate the fact that you can indulge me in this little space on the interwebs. He also talked about the power of good examples. Those examples are making a difference for him as he progresses during his mission service. I'm grateful for that.

I'm glad that he's somewhat insulated as he serves from the craptastic examples of our nation's politicians (um, Congress, #DoYourJob) and one racist, violence-inciting, habitual lying presidential candidate. Yeah, those examples...I am profoundly ungrateful. But that's another post.

13 March 2016

Meandering through Memory Lane

It looks nothing like it did when I graduated
thirty two years ago
The last few days found me in Arizona for the great annual event known as Mom's Tax Roundup. It can be as fun as it sounds, believe me. This year, though, we were totally on point. I don't know if it's her previously mentioned "Over the Rainbow (or as I like to call it, 'No I really am dying this time and I mean it!') Project but things were a pinnacle of organization this go round. As a result, I had a little more time than usual before meeting with our accountant (P.S. if you are in Arizona, you should be doing business with him). So that time allowed me to meander through Memory Lane, something I don't normally do while I'm back in the state where I spent my childhood.

High School
For whatever reason, I decided to go see my high school. To say that it has changed in the thirty two years since I graduated was an understatement. I hardly recognized it and I suppose that's a good thing. High school for me was not great (I've posted some of the pictures of myself from those years and that's the least of the reasons why it can be described as not great). In the immortal words of another one of America's wisest philosophers, Ferris Bueller, "It's a little childish and stupid, but then, so is high school." Nailed it, Ferris. Since it was Spring Break (because Arizona students needs a break from the horrific winters they endure), I was able to hang around about without looking, well, pervy. I  about died when I saw this on the administration building (a building that did not exist during years there):

"A+ School of Excellence" - let me assure you that excellence was the furthest thing from the mind of both the students of the august Class of 1984 and its administration. Somehow, like most of us, I survived the house of horrors that is high school and I was glad that I left smiling as I drove away after seeing it again after so many years.

Spring Training
As a baseball fan, growing up we got to a few Spring Training games, and I've been able to get to a few more of the years as an adult. A few years ago, we took my late father to a Cubs game and one of the best pictures we have is of him standing with Ronnie Woo Woo. I don't think Dad knew who Ronnie was but it's a great picture just the same. So with the Cubs playing the White Sox this past Saturday, I decided to relive that memory as well. Armed with a cheap ticket off the StubHub on a glorious day, I took in the game alone (baseball games and my mom aren't an ideal match) until another memory literally manifested itself in the row in front of me.
See, I told you it was an amazing day!

At the bottom of the first inning, a woman comes to the row in front of me and blurts out my name. I knew instantly who it was, in spite of the fact that by our calculus, it's probably been 30+ years since we've seen each other. She used to 'babysit' us! Now I should say that there's only a three year age gap between us but still she had the hard task of 'babysitting' my siblings and I when my parents would go out of town before I got a drivers license. Thanks to my incessant posting in the lead up to the game and her son's eagle eye, they found me. We had a great time talking and getting caught up. So funny that now we are both grandparents!

The last time she stayed with us, as I recall, I was pretty annoyed because I was pretty close to at least having my driving permit and I could not understand why a babysitter was required while my parents were gone (again, I wasn't legal to drive). Anyway, one Sunday morning we were driving to go get religion and this poor girl, Shawna, was behind the wheel of our Suburban when the power steering failed and failed big time. She was struggling mightily to turn this land yacht and I was having none of it in terms of jumping to her aid. I was in the front seat (the boss bench seats only years for the Suburban) and still seething that I couldn't drive, I was in no mood to help. I'm (mildly) proud to say that I did decide to help her turn it and we got it into a parking lot. I'm pretty sure she doesn't remember that but that memory had me laughing through the rest of the game, which the Cubs won (please, please, please be a good omen for this season)!

We live in a small world. The likes of the Instagram and the Facebooks make it even smaller. Those forums serve as a "Trapper Keeper" for the memories we capture today. It was good to meander through a slew of memories this weekend. I'm still smiling.

07 March 2016

Short and sweet

Fresh fruit on a stick
Throwback to his Mexico days
No one is ever going to accuse TMFKATB of being long-winded or overly descriptive in his weekly missives home. I've lamented that fact plenty before, so the brevity of this week's letter should not have come as a big surprise to anyone, especially me (one can hope though, right?).

Here's the recap:
Things are going well.
They are busy.
They ran into some, and I quote, 'shady people.' Let's remember that he's entrenched behind the Zion Curtain so the 'shady' scale is highly interpretive.
Knee-deep in his study of the New Testament and he's digging it.

There you have it. A week in the life of TMFKATB. Plus a picture of him going to town on what appears to be a mango. I just hope it's not a tumor-esque chunk of fried dough that some BYU student is now selling from a sketchy food truck. Even if it is said fried dough, I can hardly reprimand him for it, given my fondness for food trucks/carts, the sketchier the better, around the world. Best to leave that alone.

06 March 2016

London Has Not Fallen

A little bit from London
This past Friday night, I stepped off a flight from London at Newark, NJ, to a barrage of ads for a new movie called "London Has Fallen." I am delighted to report that no, no it has not. London is very much alive and well, which is more than I can say for the prospects of said movie. Some of the reviews include the following gems:

"Make American movies great again. You can start by boycotting this one." - Peter Travers, Rolling Stone 
"One of the worst action movies in recent history." - Ignatiy Vishnevtsky, A.V. Club

Makes you want to get to your local cineplex and waste $12 in no time, doesn't it? Suffice to say, I won't be lining up for a viewing. I've never been a big fan of seeing cities I love get decimated in film. That is certainly the case with London.

London is a storied city that I've been enthralled with since my first visit there in 1984. London was the first stop on my maiden tour of Europe and I intended to take it all in. One of my good friends was flying for Pan Am at the time and was on a layover in London and I got what I thought was the consummate 'insiders' tour of that amazing city. Eating at the Stockpot that first night made me feel like a Londoner and it also introduced me to the fact that traditional English meals are essentially devoid of flavor. Flash forward thirty two years and I can tell you things have improved - the Nepali dinner of Ghurkali lamb I had in Blackheath was awesome! I also learned on that long-ago trip that the hottest place on the planet is not a searing desert or  the proctologist's office before things get real, but it is the Tube at the height of rush hour on a summer's evening. That is a lesson you don't forget. Ever.

I've been fortunate to return to London many times since that introductory visit in 1984. To this day, it is a city that never gets dull. I say that having spent most of my waking hours in my company's London headquarters, with little chance to enjoy the city and it still wasn't dull. London is a study in contrasts. How can the same city have the beauty of Houses of Parliament marred by the architectural vomit that is the Shard? How can they continue to pronounce "Southwark" as "suth-erk?" How can they NOT sell All Butter Flap Jacks at every corner? And on that critical point, why can't Amazon.co.uk ship them to the United States? This is an important question. Like life-or-death important. And I need to find the answer.

As I flew back on Friday, I watched that icon of Britishness in what I think is the greatest Bond film of them all, Skyfall and I couldn't help but smile. All seemed right in the world as I watched Bond dump the Jaguar and jump into his famed Aston Martin DB5 and bolt for Scotland. At the end of the film, Bond gazes across the famed London skyline that survived the Blitz. It didn't fall then and certainly won't fall now.

05 March 2016

A little mayhem

Creative moving solutions.
The ties on the bike frames
are a nice touch.
Apologies for the delay in the update from TMFKATB this week. My travel precluded me from posting, simple as that.
His letter was a real joy to read. It exuded excitement and he used the word 'mayhem.' That's good stuff, people.

It seemed like it was a pretty busy work for him administratively. He and his companion led a few training meetings and spent a big chunk of time honing their creative packing skills as they transferred other missionaries throughout the mission. The use of ties as warning flags was a pretty creative touch. How no one is maimed during these transfer days is beyond me...

There was also a day of service spent translating at a free dental care clinic at the University of Utah. It was that event that he described as 'mayhem.' He also called it 'so fun.' He seems so energized by the work that he and his fellow missionaries are doing. When I read about the things that he's doing, I am grateful that he chose this path. He continues to learn and have experiences that will serve him well the rest of his life. You can't really complain about that, now can you?